James's Reviews > Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China

Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang
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's review
Mar 23, 09

Read in March, 2009

This book is a bit hard to review because it is somewhat more complex than one would first expect.
The story turns out to be a bit different than the preconceived notion also.

For the positive, the writer had a background at the wall st journal,
probably the least biased newspaper in America and this gave her the mindset and habit to write an interesting and unbiased account of this unusual mass migration from rice patty to factory.

She also integrated her life with her subjects to an unusual degree which gave her more information and allowed her the chance for personal growth and self understanding.

One gets the impression that previous to writing the book she ignored the Chinese aspect of her personal history, but in spending so much time with ambitious Chinese girls, she came to see a side of herself she had previously ignored.

The author comes across as a bright, spunky, likeable person so this helped to make the book an interesting read.

She lists quite a few interesting observations about Chinese behavior that are good too.

The 70 pages of personal family history was unexpected and while it probably made her parents happy, the book would have been better without that.

She went with one of the girls to the home farm twice and tells of life there, a high def. TV that the kids watch all day long,
but no indoor plumbing or heating, so they have to stand up and jump around to stay warm while watching it.
3-8 people sleeping in a bed...
And much more.

One funny account of bathing in the country.
"the women of the family would heat a basin of water.
One after another they washed their private parts and feet, without changing the water in between.

Then the men would refill the basin and do the same.
Every so often, the family members took a sponge bath, but that was usually different from the once in many days they washed their hair.
Eventually every part of the body would be clean, although rarely at the same time."

But, the factory girls themselves:
Most accounts tell of the low pay and long hours, they make it seem like the poor girls live a life of misery.

But throughout the book one feels that the girls don't feel that way, instead they look to the future with optimism that with each year their life is getting better and that they have more choices.
There is a sense of excitement.

Few things make people as happy as being optimistic about the future,
and except for one adult man who is fighting the government about a grievance from long ago, there are no sad sacks or whiner's in this book.
Just a hoard of ambitious people relentlessly pushing ahead with high expectations.

The major disappointment is that except for one photo on the back cover there are NO photos.
The dorms & lunchrooms they live in, the factory floor, the train stations, the farm back home, a hundred interesting images that one can only imagine.

The China of today is so different from China of 20 years ago,
and 20 years from now it will again be so different.

A photo record of this transformation is needed.

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